Before Joe Canning strode into Valhalla last Sunday afternoon, he sat down with the Irish Independent's Vincent Hogan for a lengthy and wide-ranging interview. Among the highlights was Canning perfectly accentuating the GAA's deeply problematic relationship with booze:
The culture in the GAA is for lads to go on the piss for a day or two after a big game. And that's totally wrong for your body and for your mind. They end up sick for nearly a week afterwards because they feel they have to go ballistic.
I'm not for a second recommending a drink culture, but the balance is so wrong. You're always kind of on edge now when you're out. You're almost paranoid. And that's wrong too.
Writing in the same paper, Tomás O'Sé agrees with Canning, and highlights a couple of incidents from his own time with Kerry to prove the point. Rather than drink in moderation on a reasonably consistent basis, the culture in the GAA up to now has been weeks upon weeks of abstention followed by a few days of, in Canning's words, going "ballistic".
O'Sé agrees, and tells a story of how Jack O'Connor tweaked an old Páidí tradition during training camps in Portugal. The latter would reserve the blow-out session for the very end, after which the players would be subject to a fairly brutal flight home. O'Connor decided that he would relocate the session to the middle of the trip, which O'Sé writes about with regret:
“Where are ye off to lads?” asks Jack.
“Heading go-karting Jack!” we lie.
“Great idea boys, would ye mind bringing Cian [O'Connor's son] along with ye?”
“Yeah, no hassle Jack!”
Soon as Jack walks off, we turn to Cian. “Cian away you go now, we’re not going go-karting at all!”
So off we head into town, a mighty day. Never make the evening gym session. My abiding memory is of lying in bed about three the following morning and being woken by a racket. T’was one of the lads trying to get another in over the compound gate! All I could hear was the rattle of the gate and a strong Kerry accent: ‘C’mon to fuck, you’re nearly there now...’
The following morning? Carnage. Diarmuid Murphy would never have been revered for his athleticism – as few goalkeepers are – but he was ahead of a few of us in the runs the following morning. I think back on that now and realise how ridiculous we were.
Those kinds of incidents contributed to a big learning curve for successive Kerry management teams. Put it this way, by the time Eamonn Fitz took over, the idea of those ‘blow-outs’ was history. Rightly so too. Because it would end up dangerous what we were doing, totally dehydrating ourselves.
As always, O'Sé's full column is worth a read on the Indo's website.